Drive east on the Superstition Freeway any weekend in the next five weeks and you’ll notice, through the scrubby brush near Apache Junction, a town that looks to be from a time in the past. Venture into the village, and you’ll see knights, jesters, horses and all the staples of a time more medieval than this one.
The Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace, with its jousting and giant turkey legs, is back for its annual two-month run.
But drive by any other time, and the 30-acre town will still be there, only with a steep population drop — from thousands to just around three, give or take a javelina.
Maggie Bowland, the site’s groundskeeper, makes sure the vacant village stays in a functional state during its downtime.
Though the property has ample parking and facilities that sit unused for ten months out of the year, it is not leased out for any other use. The village exists to serve one purpose: host the annual Renaissance fair.
“(W)e work really hard to produce the event as qualitatively as possible, and to have good safety, and if we were to seek others to use the site, then you start to run the risk of, if they do something and they do it poorly, it reflects on us,” says Jeffrey Siegel, producer of the event.
“The site was developed to be the site of the Renaissance Festival. We don’t want to dilute or diminish that uniqueness.”
So instead of humans inhabiting the grounds in the offseason, javelinas, bobcats and owls take up residence.
A big part of Bowland’s job is to go around, fixing the irrigation system that javelinas constantly dig up. The javelinas can be pests, but Bowland often gets to see other critters.
“Two mommas this year had babies, so I got to watch little baby bobcats grow up, and the great horned owls had four babies, so I got to watch them grow up, and the Western screech owls had three babies,” she says.
Less exciting parts of the job include flushing toilets once a month and running faucets to keep them in working order.
Bowland says that, for the most part, it’s only animals she has to deal with. She can’t recall any run-ins with people, and vandalism has not been an issue. Most damage caused to the site in the off season is due to terrible weather, not transients or tagging.
The festival is in full swing by February, but for Bowland, preparation starts in December, when all the systems get turned on at once for the first time since they were shut off the previous April. Bowland becomes a jill of all trades, fixing anything that may have become defunct. Preparation gets serious in January, when she starts getting more human company.
“It takes me a couple weeks to get used to the invasion of people,” she says. “It takes me a minute to get used to talking to people on a personal basis. Most of my communication with people over the summer is at Home Depot or a nursery or Lowes. I am slightly relieved when everybody leaves, so I can get back to the nice, steady pace of the summer.”
But, she’s also saddened when the crowds go, because so do friends who show up for the festival. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Bowland says.
It’s all work that guests at the two-month long Renaissance Festival won’t consciously notice, but every time they turn a faucet and water comes out, it’s Bowland that helped make it happen.
• Preston, a junior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514